Compiled by Maximilian C. Forte
This was a special collection assembled by Lynne Guitar, as proceedings of the
conference organized in the Dominican Republic in August 2002. Records of formal
discussions that took place during the sessions were not kept, unfortunately. On the other
hand, KACIKE does offer peer review of submissions, and this page contains the full
range of comments and questions exchanged as a result of the submissions. Lynne Guitar
suggested, given the depth and pertinence of the comments, that it be published as a
formal post-script to the collection. I agree, in that we also make public some of the
"behind the scenes" editorial debates.
The following exchanges (light grey boxes contain questions and follow-ups, light blue
ones contain replies), took place after the collection of papers had been assembled. They
occurred between editors of KACIKE concerning some of the points raised in the articles,
especially those of Lynne Guitar and Pedro Ferbel. You are invited to share your
comments by clicking on the e-mail link at the bottom of this page. Your comments will
not be automatically added however, and we reserve the right to exclude any messages
that we deem to be inappropriate, redundant, or that fail to contribute anything new to the
From: Maximilian C. Forte
To: Lynne Guitar
Sent: Wednesday, November 06, 2002 10:44 PM
Subject: Comparing Amerindians in the History of Trinidad and Taino History in
In many ways the history of Trinidad and DR under the Spanish echo each other, except
that Trinidad was an even more extreme case of Spanish neglect and ineptitude (I mean
from a colonialist vantage point), of incomplete dominion, of constant pressure from rival
European powers, of people lured to the mainland. The difference with Trinidad is that it
has always been closely integrated with the Venezuelan sphere, from which most of its
indigenous inhabitants came, and continued to come throughout Spanish and even British
rule. This is a bit of a paradox: indigenous, yet immigrant. For Venezuelan aboriginals
such as the Warao, Trinidad was never a foreign country — indeed, parts of Trinidad are
still central to Warao cosmology as a physical part of their spiritual landscape (perhaps
similar to the Australian Aboriginal concept of "the Dreaming"?), and up until recent
times they raided the south of the island, allegedly to steal clothing and even babies
asleep at night (that is one way of expanding one's gene pool, for certain, assuming the
stories even have any basis in fact).
The point I take from your paper is that the sloppiest scholarship, unquestioned and
unsupported assertions, have made for the Taino extinction myth. In my mind, where
extinction occurs under the noses of those present, there would be some legend, some
memorable narrative of the LAST such person to die. In Tobago, where presumably
nobody is left who identifies with an Amerindian heritage, there indeed is an account of
the last Carib to set off in his canoe for Grenada, I believe around 1809. The point is,
when a whole people vanish, those looking on would tend to record it — if not, that would
be quite remarkable indifference, even for the most hardened of European conquerors
who still harboured some primitive romantic kernel in their outlooks on "the savages". To
argue for the disappearance of whole people, requires extra special academic rigour... you
just can't get away with glib generalizations and statements of probability substituted as
fact. You also have to define your terms carefully — extinct what? Extinct genes? Extinct
practices? Extinct identifications?
Also interesting in your paper is your focus on survival via the domestic and female
dimension. Even here in Trinidad, whenever I encounter people who claim Carib
ancestry, I notice that they almost always say, "my mother is Carib", "my grandmother
was a Carib", "my great grandmother was a pure Carib", "my great aunts taught me Carib
ways", and so on.
I would also add, in the Trinidadian case, that most of the 19th century authors who wrote
books on the "dwindling" and "disappearing Indians", were favourable to, or actual
members of, local landowning families with interests in acquiring the mission lands of
the Amerindians which were, by law, otherwise inalienable. These were valuable cocoa-
growing lands, and there was a massive cocoa boom between 1870 and 1920. Ironically,
this boom required imported Venezuelan labour. . . most of which consisted of mestizos
and some Amerindians ... thus reinforcing the local mestizo population.
One more thing: in Trinidad there is a thesis that such things as Aguinaldos emerged
from the mission context, the practice of using song and music to catechize Amerindians.
The way it gets translated here is that this tradition, emerging from the mission past,
basically renders the institution particular to the Amerindians, and thus, after some more
intellectual filtering, historically part of the colonial Amerindian experience, and after
further filtering, "having Amerindian roots". I would look into this on your end. Certainly
the use of maracas is not coincidental, I don't think.
From: Maximilian C. Forte
To: Peter Ferbel and Lynne Guitar
Sent: Friday, November 08, 2002 11:27 PM
Subject: Questions on Pedro Ferbel's Paper
Intertwined with replies from Pedro Ferbel as per:
From: Pedro Ferbel-Azcarate
To: Maximilian C. Forte, Lynne Guitar
Sent: Sunday, November 10, 2002 6:44 AM
Subject: Re: Questions on Taino Papers
Dear Pedro and Lynne,
I have some questions and comments on Pedro's paper, in no particular order:
MAX: At the start, you mention "nationalist ideologies of progress and civilization found
in the embrace of Hispanidad and Catholicism". This is interesting because elsewhere in
Latin America it is precisely these elements of the Iberian background that were singled
out as cultural factors impeding progress, hence the turn towards north-western European
and American models of development, rationality, the Protestant ethic, etc., with the
consequent imbibing of the theories of David Ricardo, Adam Smith, Darwin and
Spencer. The way you describe it here, nationalism in the DR sounds decidedly
antiquated and colonial in comparison, from the standpoint of "progressivists" elsewhere
in the Americas. Even in Trinidad, texts common lump Amerindians and the Spanish
colonialists together, as "backward", "unprogressive" peoples who lay dormant and
indolent until the arrival of the mighty, progressive British. I also noticed that on page 2
you change the narrative by saying: "development towards a Western economy meant
movement away from traditional Dominican culture and Taino heritage."
PEDRO: Some of the questions are deeper than the points I want to make in this paper
but I will respond to them anyway because they are good questions.... Nice observation. I
think the first point is true, though I am no historian of Adam Smith et al., and their
ideas/influence on national identity-making. I would say the DR is less progressive for its
embrace of Hispanidad and Catholicism than other countries of the region. The DR's
Catholic Cardinal Lopez Rodriguez still holds an official political post of some influence,
for example. I'm not sure who I would reference here. Perhaps James Ferguson's Beyond
the Lighthouse 1992 Latin American Bureau Press. So, then, I think you are pointing out
something that I do not make explicit — that there has been a more recent shift, perhaps in
the last thirty years, toward embracing a nationalism seasoned with neo-liberal New York
oriented sensibilities that is non-traditional when compared to the Hispanidad and
Catholicism that I mention. And I might again cite James Ferguson's 1992 Beyond the
Lighthouse Latin American Bureau Press to suggest that is the newer trend. But overall,
my larger point is that all these colonial and neo-colonial identity politics are very
unrelated to the deepest Taino roots, and the historic Afro-Mestizo roots of the
MAX: The definition of "heritage" that you provide, where does that come from? For
example, some definitions of heritage may make no reference to an "ancestral" past as
such, just "a past" in some amorphous sense.
PEDRO: I am defining the term "heritage" much like the way many anthropologists
define "ethnicity" — as a self-defining concept that may be related to culture or ancestry. I
penned the definition in the paper, though it could refer to definitions made in James
Clifford's (1988) The Predicament of Culture, James Brow, Hobsbawm and Ranger, and
MAX: You say that anthropology argues that there is no such thing as a "pure" culture,
then just a couple of lines down you start speaking about Dominicans sharing a common
UNI-cultural heritage, which to me, and possibly others as well, sounds like cultural
purity coming back in through the back door. How would you address that?
PEDRO: I could make this clearer. By uni-cultural I simply mean more or less common
denominator. Purity, to me, implies strict boundaries. The uni-cultural DR identity has
the flexibility to change, incorporate, creolize. Purity would suggest to me that new
cultural forms are more easily excluded or considered inventions. So how do you think it
would read if we just substitute "common denominator" for "uni-cultural?"
MAX: Pedro, you write: "Today, as professors, researchers, and students we must accept
the responsibility to critically re-examine the stories of Taino extinction from a position
free from racial politics and nationalist agendas. In such a way, we open the door for all
Dominicans to understand their true history, identify with all their ancestors, celebrate
their traditional culture, and look to the future for their common destiny." However, the
contradiction I see there lies in the "common destiny" notion, which sounds very much
like a nationalist concept.
PEDRO: Good observation, I agree. Though their common destiny may be beyond
national borders — i.e. common with Cubans, Puerto Ricans, all Indigenous Caribbean
people, all Caribbean people. How about the sentence ends instead with "... and use this
knowledge to help them find their path beyond Columbus's wake."
MAX: RE: "Dominicans have a similar conception for the lottery system, where numbers
and dates never appear random but divinely ordered phenomena" — what made you
conclude that this was of Taino origin? Astrology and numerology were popular with
Europeans as well.
PEDRO: How true! European Americans do this too. I never felt 100 percent on this.
Let's just strike it.
MAX: You list numerous examples of the survival of Taino practices. Do those who
cook, heal, build homes, and all of these other things do so conscious and/or
knowledgeable of their Taino origins? The question seems, to me anyway, to be a critical
one. The reader needs to know whose voice is being represented here — that of the social
scientist who assigns labels to certain practices, versus that of the 'native practitioner'
who may not give much thought to any of this. This is a question that I find is
consistently evaded throughout most contemporary writings on cultural survival in the
Caribbean, and it is quickly becoming a major vulnerability. How? You open yourself up
to the charge that you, the "outside", "white", "foreign" social scientist have concocted
Taino survival on paper, while on the ground people themselves care little for this, know
little of it, and seem to switch to cheap foreign imports quite easily as you say. Now, I am
NOT saying that the charge is correct, but you might try to "anticipate" it in some form,
and maybe address it here.
PEDRO: My apologies for the long answer here. In general, some Dominicans identify
with their roots vis-a-vis their culture and some do not — most do not. Yet, I am about to
make the argument that for many of those who say they do not identify with their roots,
that instead they really do. A big part of it is that it's just not taught to them to be aware
of such things like their history and identity. When the opportunity is brought to their
attention — many more identify with their Taino roots. The problem is that the Nation and
Church have historically limited those opportunities to identify with Taino roots or just to
be able to think about the concept of "identity".
I think I agree with the interpretations I have heard from contemporary Taino activists
including Naniki Reyes Ocasio, Jorge Estevez, Rene Cibanakan, and numerous Taino
people, Dominicans, Cubans, and Puerto Ricans who have been able to articulate it. In
my paper I thought I had explained it when I talk about historical strategies for Taino
survival. One survival strategy for the Taino in the Greater Antilles was invisibility.
Naniki talks about this as the Taino falling asleep to protect themselves for the future
generations. They forgot who they were so they would not be oppressed for who they
were. Today they are starting to awaken. That is to say, the Taino chose not to teach their
children to identify with their ethnic roots so they would not be oppressed for having
those roots. They taught the culture divorced from its origin. Over time it became
It's pretty similar to the process of ethnic minorities in the USA losing their languages,
accents, etcetera to get the privileges of being White. Or at least gain the "privileges" of
not being oppressed for being too "Non-White" (closer to the Taino story). From Swedes
to Jews to Irish to Italians, to Bohemians to Hungarians, to Germans, ethnic identity was
not taught to children in order to gain social and economic privileges of being White. It is
a survival technique even though it means giving up the connections to the ancestors
(bloodlines) and culture. It's still a strategy today among Mexicans, Russians, Poles,
etcetera. And yet many of those immigrant groups in the United States have still held on
to markers like foodways.
After I gave this paper at the Museo del Hombre in the DR, my long time friend, Dona
Mecho, who is from a campo of Moncion, where she lives in traditional ways and makes
casabe bread, asked me, ironically, "So, if the Taino survived, then where are they
today?" And I looked at her and said: "They are up in a campo of Moncion making
casabe bread!" And she looked me straight in the eye and simply nodded.
The point is that colonized people need knowledge of history and culture to understand
the subtleties of who they truly are. For that reason I would consider Dona Mecho
identifying with her Taino roots when she bakes casabe bread — whether she calls herself
Dominican or Taina. I would argue that for Dona Mecho, those are names for the same
I understand the point of view issue of the outsider anthropologist coming in and
influencing local communities, but I also think as I say, that "...as professors,
researchers, and students we must accept the responsibility to critically re-examine the
stories of Taino extinction from a position free from racial politics and nationalist
agendas," I wish there were more Native anthropologists and archaeologists. More Native
teachers and students. But I don't think that will happen unless those of us with the power
and privilege share that power. For the most part, the "Native" archaeologists, historians,
archaeologists of the Dominican Republic are from an elite class that is pretty much out
of touch with the rest of the Dominican people.
This last point was inspired by my colleagues teaching in the Black Studies department.
It is a very Western goal to identify people and cultures in these ways. The concept of
"identification" was most likely very different from Western notions. So the whole thrust
of the question- "Do they identify or not?" could be seen as a Western and perhaps
MAX: I would like to see one of the authors, maybe you Lynne in your introduction, give
a breakdown of the ethnic composition of the Dominican Republic. Are there any people
from Asia? Is there a Chinese community for example? How about from different parts of
Europe? Has the DR had any immigrant labour post-slavery? From where? I, and
probably other readers, need to see how much of this "tripartite" stuff is a simple
generalization as compared to the current multi-ethnic reality of the DR, if it has one.
From: Lynne Guitar
To: Maximilian C. Forte, Pedro Ferbel
Sent: Sunday, November 10, 2002 10:23 PM
LYNNE: Regarding the questions on the modern Dominican ethnic component, I will
attempt to find the percentages of immigrants, but yes, Max, there are Asians here today.
In fact, Santo Domingo has a quite large "China Town" (they appear to have come
directly to the metropolitan center), and lots of Japanese who originally came as
agriculturalists, and many other ethnic groups, including American freed slaves, who
settled Samana. But isn't this all beyond the scope of the conference-NEW
DIRECTIONS IN RESEARCH ABOUT TAINO HERITAGE? We could include the
information, perhaps, as a footnote, or-better yet-as a separate entry on the modern
ethnic component of the DR and how minority groups in the present are usually
"invisible" in the general picture, just as Tainos became "invisible" in the past, despite
being a palpable presence.
Further comment on the multiethnic nature of Dominican society:
From: Maximilian C. Forte
To: Lynne Guitar, Pedro Ferbel
Sent: Monday, November 11, 2002 2:36 AM
MAX: No, it would seem central to me if the conference includes as one of its subjects of
concern, as you state in the Introduction, "the politics of history, race, and culture, and
the composition of national identity. In this way, the cultural institutions of the
Dominican Republic could see their role as leaders in the evaluation of culture for all the
people of the Dominican Republic". I need to see this whole Taino debate contextualized
within the present and within the society in which it occurs. It is not therefore, I think,
beyond the scope of the conference, especially if you are speaking of modern day Tainos
and this "tripartite" identity which turns out to be an idealization that seems to exclude all
these ethnic others. The Tainos of today live in this context, not isolated from it, and
obviously you didn't need me to tell you this. So, certainly, new directions in Taino
research should take into account the construction of Dominican national identity, this
invention of a tripartite identity, and how identity itself, being relational, necessitates
some understanding of context. That is just my view, and this is email, so forgive me if
the tone is all wrong and it sounds like I am lecturing. I think Pedro does a pretty good
job of bringing this larger contemporary context of nationalism, globalization, etc., at
different points in his paper, so I just wanted some further details. Think especially of
those who know nothing about the Dominican Republic.
Back to Pedro Ferbel's article...
MAX: Pedro, when you end the paper by saying, "As we say in the Cibao...", who is the
PEDRO: "We" are those who live, work, and identify with the Cibao as their home. And
I consider myself and am considered by others of the Cibao as one of those "We."
From: Maximilian C. Forte
To: Peter Ferbel, Baracutayl@aol.com, Lynne Guitar
Sent: Sunday, November 10, 2002 1:26 AM
Subject: Questions on Taino Population Stats
Some further questions came to mind on the various population statistics and census data
that you talk about in your paper. Is there any documentary information that gives
numbers for Amerindians imported to work in Hispaniola's gold mines in the early
1500s, and lumped under the heading of "Indian"? Just from my own reading, I know of
Amerindians exported as slaves from Trinidad, Venezuela, Margarita, and Aruba, in the
early years of the 1500s, and possibly from other nearby parts as well. How many of
these people, in total, arrived in Hispaniola? Having said this, with reference to the Taino
faces, can you say with any certainty that these are Taino descendants and not
descendants of other Amerindians brought into Hispaniola?
From: Lynne Guitar
To: Maximilian C. Forte, Pedro Ferbel, Jorge Estevez
Sent: Monday, November 11, 2002 12:09 AM
Subject: Re: Questions on Taino Population Stats, with an addendum from Lynne
Guitar's doctoral dissertation.
Yes, Max, Indians were brought in from all OVER the Caribbean and circum-Carribean
to work the gold mines of Hispaniola, although the greater majority of them appear to
have been Tainos from the Bahamas and other outlying areas, Guanahatabeys (if you buy
the theory that many of them in north-eastern Hispaniola and in Cuba had not yet become
incorporated into the "Taino"
family), and Caribs from the Lesser Antilles. I have all the documents that I could find
listed in Chapter 2 of my dissertation (I have "selected" the corresponding pages and
attached them), but there are no "statistics." All the demography questions that surround
the Conquest Era are very "hot" topics. For example, we still have absolutely no idea of
how many indigenous people there were on Hispaniola (or in the rest of the Greater
Antilles) circa 1492. Were there 200,000 or 2 million on Hispaniola? The debate still
rages on in many circles, with most academics sounding decidedly medieval, for they
argue vehemently whether the quantities provided by Peter Martyr were more correct
than those provided by Las Casas, or perhaps Oviedo was more correct than either Las
Casas or Martyr — while my work, I believe, shows that we cannot rely upon ANY of the
chroniclers' "guesstimates" as concrete data. Neither, of course, can we "count the teeth
in the horse's mouth," as an Enlightenment Era scholar should. So how will we ever get
an accurate "original population" estimate? CAN we get at least an idea of whether the
original Taino population in the pre-Columbian Era was in the hundreds of thousands or
in the millions? At the very least, we have eliminated the old theory that the original
population had to be small because the island could not support large populations — the
Tainos lived in abundance on their high carbohydrate and high caloric diet of casabe,
cornbread, root vegetables, and fruit, combined with protein from a plethora of fish and
other marine animals, resident and migrant fowl, and some hutia. Personally, I go along
with Kathleen Deagan's hypothesis that the higher-number estimates are probably more
accurate than the smaller-number estimates, based on the analyses of material remains of
the admittedly small amount of archaeological excavations that have been done on pre-
Columbian sites and early Contact Era sites. We will have to leave the final analysis for
some future date, IF we should ever be able to gather together the huge amount of dollars
necessary to conduct the kind of extensive archaeology that would be required to more
In my dissertation, I touched upon the effect of all the outside Indians whom the
Spaniards brought in to work the gold mines. One of the effects of this reverse diaspora
was to create a more universal concept of "Indian" among the Spaniards, who began to
treat all indigenous peoples with less respect than before, for they were dealing more and
more now with involuntarily imported indigenous peoples who had been ripped from
their homelands and families and thrown into what was, for them, a chaotic situation, as
well as with Tainos who were experiencing a similar chaotic situation because of the loss
of a large percentage of
their populace to disease, famine, and dispersal from their home yucayekes. (We can
obviously draw assistance from scholars of the African Diaspora here.) It wasn't only
Europeans who began to have a universal concept, a universal stereotype, of "Indian."
The Tainos who survived, I believe, also began to think of themselves in an "us" vs.
"them" way, recognizing the "Indian-ness" that they had in common among the survivors
of the various cacicazgos and even among the themselves and the newcomer Indians, in
all their variety, when compared to the Spaniards.
Tainos appear to have adopted various strategies in order to survive AND to save what
remained of their beliefs and culture. Some of them, as both Pedro and I have suggested,
became "invisible," became so integrated into the now-dominant Spanish culture that
they were indistinguishable, at least to the external eye, from other "Spanish" residents of
(many were aided and abetted in this by their Spanish husbands, fathers, and bosses). But
it is obvious from the vast amount of Taino culture that has survived to the present day,
albeit often disguised and intermixed with other cultural beliefs, that their culture was
valuable to them, and they preserved what was most valued and/or most easily
disguised.... Other Tainos and newcomer indigenes, as well as Africans, became
invisible in a very different way. They escaped to the peripheral parts of the island. From
the very beginning of the Contact Era, we know that Africans were running away with
Tainos and forming cimarron communities with them. Why? They needed the Tainos'
knowledge of the island — its escape routes, its peripheral areas, knowledge of where its
scarce resources were and how to get at them — and other information that the Taino had
accumulated over more than a thousand years, information about how to survive there in
other to successfully run away and maintain themselves. In a like manner, both the
Africans and the newcomer indigenous peoples would have merged with and adopted the
Tainos' religious and other cultural beliefs along with their intimate knowledge on how
to survive and THRIVE on the island, for this knowledge was not apart from their
culture, but inextricably intertwined with it-see David M. Guss's TO WEAVE AND TO
SING: ART, SYMBOL, AND NARRATIVE IN THE SOUTH AMERICAN RAIN
FOREST, an incredible glimpse into the tightly interwoven complexity of myth, ritual,
and daily life among the Yekuana peoples. Having read it three times now, I still get the
shivers, for Guss's work reveals how very, very little any of us probably knows about the
culture of the pre-Contact Era Tainos or Caribs, both of whom are distant relatives of the
The point I wanted to make with all this, and I'm not certain that I was clear, is to
counteract before it even comes up the argument that, OK, even if some Tainos survived
the Spanish Conquest, are today's Dominicans who have indigenous genes and
indigenous culture TAINOS? I believe that they are, despite the fact that a few of them
have decidedly Mayan faces. I believe that the biological mix revealed by Dr. Juan Carlos
Martinez Cruzado's analyses of modern-day Dominicans' hair roots will show that their
maternal ancestors were overwhelmingly Taino, with some input from relatively small
importations of indigenous peoples from other regions of the Caribbean and circum-
Caribbean. But I believe that the CULTURE that was passed on was even more
From Lynne Guitar's dissertation:
Indigenous slavery: Of cannibals and kings, "just war" and "rescate"
Edwin A. Levine writes that the Tainos "escaped technical slavery based on the church's
dictum that they were worthy of conversion." 1 He is not quite right. Columbus enslaved
several hundred Tainos from the Cibao and shipped them off to Spain for sale as
punishment for their uprising in 1495, although Queen Isabel ordered them to be set free
and returned to Hispaniola. In 1504, however, after the Queen's death, the crown
conceded that those Tainos who did not accept their position as vassals — namely, the
"rebel" Tainos in the cacicazgo of Higiiey — could justifiably be enslaved by reason of
their rebellion against Spanish dominion,2 and on April 30, 1508, a royal cedula was
issued permitting the enslavement of any Indian who fled from Spanish dominion, not
just those who resisted by fighting. 3 Generally, however, the earliest of Hispaniola' s
slaves were imported from Iberia and included "ladinoized" Africans, "white" slaves
(mainly Moors, but also Christians who had fallen into debt slavery or had committed
other crimes condemning them to slavery), and Canarians.4
Indians from the "useless" islands
There were not many slaves of any kind on Hispaniola in the first decades of its
colonization because of the readily available supply of indigenous laborers. The
chronicler Martyr provides extensive detail on the depopulation of the Lucayos (today's
Bahamas), which the Spaniards called "useless" islands — useless because they had no
gold. The Lucayans were among the first Indians transported to Hispaniola to supplement
the native population there. 5 The Lucayans were not commended to Spaniards, but
neither were they slaves. They were brought to Hispaniola as naborfas, unattached to any
particular cacique and not subject to the protections against exploitation afforded to
commended Indians by the Laws of Burgos nor to those afforded to slaves.
William F. Keegan estimates that nearly 26,000 naborfas were imported to Hispaniola in
1510 from the Bahamas alone and that by 1513 the islands were basically depopulated. 6
The Tainos no doubt accepted the Lucayans (Western Tamos) into their cacicazgos as
brethren. They had a language and customs, values and beliefs nearly identical to those of
the Tainos of Hispaniola. The Lucayans, "like those [Indians] of this land, are already
almost one people," governor Rodrigo de Figueroa informed the crown. 7
The arrival of the Lucayans, then, probably did not unduly destabilize the fragile balance
that appears to have been maintained between Hispaniola' s caciques and the Spanish
encomenderos. Not so the arrival of the Caribes, whose capture and enslavement was
authorized in 1503 by Queen Isabela.8 The capture and enslavement of Caribes was
considered to be "just" because of the abominable nature of their alleged protein base —
other humans. 9
From Columbus's first voyage on, it is clear that the Tainos perceived the Caribes as
being quite distinct from themselves. They perceived them as enemies, and no doubt
were responsible for starting what very well might have been rumors that caused the
Caribes to have such a heinous reputation. 10 Europeans were both horrified by and
fascinated with cannibalism, and quite ready to believe what the Tainos told them.
Everything the Tainos said about the "cannibals" seemed to be confirmed when
Spaniards discovered skulls and other human remains in the Caribe villages (which may
very well have been the sacred remains of ancestors). Amerigo Vespucci described
cannibals in detail for an avid European audience:
"And we discovered that they were of a race called Cannibals, for almost the majority of
this race, if not all, live off human flesh; and of this fact Your Magnificence can be
certain. They do not eat one another, but navigate in certain vessels of theirs, called
canoes, and they go to neighboring islands or lands in search of prey from among the
races that are either their enemies or different from them; and they do not eat females, but
rather keep them as slaves. And this we verified in the many regions where we found
such people, for many times we saw the bones and heads of some of those they had eaten,
nor do they deny it, and their enemies also told us of them, living as they do in continual
fear of them." 1 1
The horrors of cannibalism gave Spaniards in the New World a new legal excuse for
capturing not just slaves, but more naborias as well — rescate. "Rescate" at this time
generally meant "rescue" or "ransom" and referred to those Indians whom Caribes had
apparently captured and taken to their villages as slaves, as wives, or for the fattening
pens. 12 The earliest royal license for rescate in the Americas appears to have been
granted to Diego de Nicuesa and Alonso de Ojeda on June 9, 1508, who were permitted
to bring 400 naborias from Tierra Firme to Hispaniola.13 Many, many more licenses of
rescate were issued after that, for the concept appealed to the Christian-mission angle of
the New World conquest and settlement. 14 It was, of course, considered far better to be
forced into servitude under a Christian master than to serve a cannibal. 15
Indian slaving escalates
Meanwhile, the Lucayans, like the Tamos, "did not fare well" on Hispaniola, the crown
noted in a letter to Colon dated June 6, 1511. Their decline was attributed to their diet,
but almost certainly had more to do with being torn from their homelands and with non-
immunity to European-borne diseases. In this letter, the crown issued its approval for
individual Spaniards to bring Indians to the island from other regions (the letter
specifically mentions Trinidad and Santa Cruz), under special license, "as long as they
are not harmed so much as they have been up to now, for it weighs heavily on the [royal]
conscience and does not seem very profitable for business, seeing as how many have
The 1503 license that first permitted the enslavement and sale of cannibals was granted to
the Archdukes of Austria and the Dukes of Borgona, European nobles of the highest
order. In 1509, King Ferdinand issued similar licenses to Governor Ovando and to the
royal treasurer Miguel de Pasamonte, the two highest officials on Hispaniola. 17 In late
1511, the field was opened up wide. Royal provisions conceded to vecinos ("citizens")
and residents alike of both Hispaniola and Puerto Rico the rights to go to the other islands
and mainland to make war against the cannibals, to capture them, and take them as
slaves, as long as they were not sold outside the Indies. The islands of "Trinidad, San
Bernardo, Fuerte, Los Barbudos, Dominica, Matenino, Santa Lucia, San Vicente, La
Asuncion, Tabaco, Mayo y Baru" and the port of Cartagena were specifically identified.
Furthermore, the royal provisions conceded Spaniards the rights to these slaves "without
incurring any penalties nor paying any taxes." 18
In 1512, Queen Juana publicly testified as to her approval of the "war" against the
Caribes, especially in light of all the harm they had done to the new colonies on the island
of San Juan Baptista (Puerto Rico). 19 Besides, it was generally agreed that Caribes were
stronger, thus were better workers, than the Tainos.20 To the Spaniards, however, one
Indian apparently looked like all the others. A royal provision dated July 25, 1511,
ordered that all Indians brought from elsewhere to Hispaniola were to be branded on the
legs "in the manner prescribed by the Admiral [Diego Colon] and the other officials, so
that they can be known" and distinguished from the indigenous Tainos. 21
Clearly, the demand for indigenous slaves on Hispaniola was a response to the dwindling
Taino population. The crown was particularly worried about having enough workers for
the gold mines. Not only were the natives dying off, but too many Indians were being
shipped to Spain and sold there (not just slaves, but commended Tainos and imported
naborfas as well), where they commanded far higher prices than on Hispaniola. Esteban
Mira Caballos's study indicates that the average adult female Indian on Hispaniola sold
for 8.54 gold pesos, while a male brought 5.32 gold pesos. In Spain, where they were
considered to be "exotics," the average sale price was nineteen gold pesos, with females
consistently selling for about two pesos more than males. 22 To prevent the loss of
laborers on Hispaniola, on July 21, 1511, the crown issued the first of many ordinances
prohibiting the sale of Indian slaves in Spain. 23
Other islands and mainland regions were rapidly added to the cannibals-available-for-
enslavement list, including Florida (by which was meant the entire North American
coast),24 Paria,25 the South American coast from the Gulf of Venezuela to "Coquibacoa"
(Cubagua?),26 the "Gigantes" (islands of Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire),27 as well as the
coasts of Mexico and the Yucatan.28 By 1520, Indian slaves were also coming from
mainland Brazil, evidenced by a cedula dated January 9 and issued to the licenciado
Antonio Serrano "to buy Indians from the Portuguese and bring them to whatever part of
the Indies" they were needed. 29 Unfortunately, the records are too scanty to estimate
with any degree of accuracy how many Indians were imported to Hispaniola from any of
the various regions.
By 1512, some encomenderos on Hispaniola had possession of hundreds of Indian slaves.
Diego de Nicuesa, for example, had 200, some of whom, no doubt, were among those he
had brought with him from Santa Cruz on Tierra Firme. When he died, his heir, his
brother Alonso de Nicuesa, filed claim to them. 30 Nicuesa' s 200 Indian slaves probably
were not all from Tierra Firme, however, for a cedula dated Mar 28, 1510, indicates that
the crown had found its original permit to be "inconvenient," though it does not suggest
why. Colon was ordered to appoint an overseer to send the Santa Cruz Indians back to the
mainland and replace them with others. 31 Note that, in 1509, Diego de Nicuesa had taken
400 Tainos with him to Tierra Firme, so it was not a one-way cultural/labor exchange. 32
And Juan Ponce de Leon had royal permission to take Taino allies with him from
Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and Cuba to help him pacify the Caribes and the Indians of "La
Florida... and the other islands he discovered. "33 The Tainos, who by 1509 were at least
somewhat ladinoized and accustomed to working with Spaniards, would have been a real
asset to the conquistadores in newly discovered lands. Too much so, perhaps. To prevent
the loss of workers on Hispaniola, the crown issued orders on June 21, 1511 that "from
this time forward" no Indian slaves were to be taken from Hispaniola to Castile. 34 On
February 22, 1512, the order was reissued, adding that no Indians were to be taken from
the island, nor from Puerto Rico or Jamaica. The fine for a first offense was set at 2,000
maravedfes, double that for a second offense, and if a Spaniard should be caught in a
third offense, he would pay triple the fine and would be deprived of the Indians. 35 Ten
months later, the crown ordered Colon to register all the Indian slaves on the island and
issued permission for vecinos to bring slaves from Cuba and Puerto Rico to Hispaniola,
but only if an equal number were returned. 36 Obviously the newly settled islands were
losing their natives at a rapid rate.
The effects of slavery
The numerical decline of Hispaniola' s indigenous people — through exportation to Spain
and to other Spanish colonies in addition to loss from disease, malnutrition and
exploitation — coupled with the arrival of massive numbers of Indians who were not
Tamos, must have been very unsettling to the native caciques. The new Indian peoples
had no tradition of subservience to Hispaniola' s nitainos, nor were they expected to work
through the caciques as the commended Tamos were. They were, for the most part,
slaves. More important to the island's subsequent history, perhaps, is that the influx of
Indian slaves affected the way that Spaniards on Hispaniola began to perceive all Indians.
It is from 1512 on that the word "naboria" is used, more and more frequently, as
synonymous with the word "slave" in royal cedulas and provisions, and in letters to and
from the crown. 37
Clearly the delicately negotiated balance represented by the encomienda system as it first
developed on Hispaniola was breaking down by the second decade of the sixteenth
century. The mutually beneficial system whereby the Taino caciques, as the traditional
leaders of their people, organized and sent out work parties for their Spanish
encomenderos in exchange for special rights and privileges, was no longer mutually
beneficial. The new generation of Spaniards who came to the island, and the "old
settlers" who had lived through the initial wars of conquest and pacification, began to
take Indian compliance to forced servitude for granted. 3 8
By the time Colon arrived as governor and viceroy in 1509, the Spaniards were becoming
more possessive, more didactical, less willing to negotiate with and defer to the Taino
caciques. And it is clear that the Tamos' socio-political structure had been all but
destroyed within the first two decades of their encounter with the Spaniards. The Spanish
chroniclers, however, mistook the Tamos' political disintegration for their complete
social, cultural, economic and political capitulation. As shall be demonstrated in later
chapters, this was not the case. Meanwhile, the Spaniards on Hispaniola turned their
diplomatic efforts inward, becoming ever more deeply embroiled in their own internal
politics as they scrabbled over the remaining Indians and the remaining gold.
1 Levine, "Seeds of Slavery," 35.
2 Cedula of Feb 5, 1504. Marte, Manuscritos de Juan Bautista Munoz, Vol. 1, 53.
3 CDIU, Vol. 5, 125-142. Deive observes that this was a momentous decision that
affected all Indians of the Americas, not just those who were actively at war as before.
Deive, La Espanola y la esclavitud de los indios, 90.
For an enlightening discussion of European concepts of violence, just war and
exploitation "for the good of the empire," see Anthony Pagden, Lords of all the World:
Ideologies of Empire in Spain, Britain and France c. 1500-C.1800 (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1995), 29-45.
4 For more detail, see Chapter V.
5 Martyr, De Orbe Novo, Book 2, 248-274. See also Las Casas, Historia, Book 2, Chps.
6 Today's Bahamas. See William F. Keegan, The People Who Discovered Columbus:
The Prehistory of the Bahamas (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1992), 221-223.
7 AGI, Patronato 174, R 19.
8 AGI, Indiferente General 418, LI, ffl 16r-l 16v. Permission to capture Caribes, who
were reputed to be cannibals, was clarified in a letter from the crown to Ovando dated
Nov 15, 1505: In response to "your letter saying it is necessary to know which Indians it
is that can be captured and brought to the island as slaves, those that can be captured are
those who do not want to obey, those who are said to be cannibals, who are those from
the islands of San Bernaldo and Isla Fuerte and those from the ports of Cartagena. . . ."
Indiferente General 418, LI, ffl85v-186; full text available in CDIU, Vol. 5, 110-113.
9 The expanding consequences of the "just war" ideology can be seen in the strange legal
document and procedure called El Requerimiento ("The Requirement") that was created
by a learned committee of scholars, theologians and jurists led by Dr. Juan Lopez de
Palacios Rubios, who met to debate and consider the concept. From 1513 on, each
Spanish expedition had to read The Requirement aloud to every new group of Indian
peoples encountered. The document was long and complex, but basically required all
Indians to submit voluntarily to the authority of Their Catholic Majesties or be subjected
to enslavement. See Lynne Guitar, "The Requirement," in Historical Encyclopedia of
World Slavery; Lewis Hanke, "The 'Requerimiento' and its Interpreters," in Revista de
Historia de America 1 (1938): 25-34; and Patricia Seed's chapter on "The Requirement,"
in Ceremonies of Possession in Europe's Conquest of the New World, 1492-1640 (New
York: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
10 See Columbus's entry of Friday, Nov 23, 1492. Diario, 166-167. Some scholars have
recently demonstrated that the Spanish slavers accused numerous Indian peoples of being
cannibals as an excuse to capture and enslave them. Others have suggested that even
those Indians whom the Tamos called cannibals were simply a more recent wave of
migrants from the same cultural and biological stock as the Tamos. They suggest that the
two peoples were more culturally similar than formerly believed, that both peoples
exercised ritual cannibalism, but neither relied upon human meat for sustenance. Jalil
Sued-Badillo, Los Caribes, Realidad or Fabula: Ensayo de rectificacion historica (Rio
Piedras, PR: Editorial Antillana, 1978) and Peter Hulme, Colonial Encounters: Europe
and the Native Caribbean (London: Methuen, 1986). Note, however, that both of these
scholars have been criticized for the shallowness of their evidence. See Philip P.
Boucher's discussion of the arguments in Cannibal Encounters: Europeans and Island
Caribs, 1492-1763 (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 2-8, and
the debate between Hulme and Myra Jehlen, "Making No Bones: A Response to Myra
Jehlen," and "Response to Peter Hulme, II" in Critical Inquiry 20 (Autumn 1993): 179-
186 and 187-191, respectively.
11 Amerigo Vespucci, Letters from a New World: Amerigo Vespucci's Discovery of
America, ed. Luciano Formisano, trans. David Jacobson (New York: Marsilio, 1992), 9.
12 Rescate is another of the Iberian traditions that the Spaniards brought with them and
modified/adapted to the New World. It initially had connotations of "trade," "barter" and
"ransom." See Lyle M. McAlister, Spain and Portugal in the New World, 1492-1700
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 91.
13 AGI, Indiferente General 1961, LI, ff57v-58.
14 See Deive, La Espafiola y la esclavitud de los indios, 82-83.
15 The Jeronymite friars who were sent to Hispaniola as provisional governors (see
Chapter rV) supported the policy of rescate and recommended to Cardinal Cisneros that
more licenses for same be issued, although they wanted the mainland Indians exempted,
Marte, Manuscritos de Juan Bautista Munoz, Vol 1., 253-259. Permission for governors
of the Indies to license missions of rescate was confirmed by Carlos I on Sep 6, 1521.
It is clear, however, that not all the Indians who were "rescued" wanted to leave their
former lives, for on Nov 17, 1526, item eight of the so-called Laws of Granada, which
revised treatment of the Indians, ordered that, henceforth, no Indians could be forcefully
rescued, that they must be taken voluntarily and treated well. AGI, Indiferente General
421, LI 1, ff332-336v. In 1534, Indians taken by rescate were no longer to be categorized
as naborias, but as slaves, for their own good, because of the "idolatry, vices, sins and
other abominable customs" that they fell into without strict Spanish guidance. AGI,
Indiferente General 422, LI 6, ff61v-66v; full text available in CDIU, Vol. 10, 192-203.
16 AGI, Indiferente General 139, ff73-77v.
17 AGI, Indiferente General 1961, L2, ffl 17v-l 18 and fl39v, respectively.
18 AGI, Indiferente General 418, L3, f21 lv and ff213-214v, dated Dec 23, 151 1 and Dec
24, 1511, respectively. See also AGI Indiferente General 41, LI, ffl31v-132, another
version of the royal provision, this one dated Dec 24, 1511, "so that all can make war
against the caribes and take them as slaves." Full text available in CDIA, Vol. 4, 363-364.
Note that, although cannibals could be enslaved without paying taxes on them, the crown
still profited, for the quinto had to paid annually on all profits earned through the labor of
same. Cedula dated Jun 22, 1511, CDIU, Vol. 5, 262-264.
19 APS, Feb 28, 1512, Oficio 1, LI, f314, cuaderno 13. She also removed the stipulation
that Caribs not be sold outside the Indies.
20 Letter from crown to Colon and other officials on Hispaniola dated Feb 23, 1512.
Marte, Manuscritos de Juan Bautista Munoz, Vol. 1, 107-108.
21 AGI, Indiferente General 418, L3, ffl32r-132v.
22 Indian children on Hispaniola brought higher average prices than adult males: 8.16
gold pesos for female children and 7.35 for males. Prices from Mira Caballos, El indio
Antillano, 288-289. Deive points out that, in the second decade of the sixteenth century,
when the Indian population of the Greater Antilles had been greatly diminished and
pearls were found on and around Cubagua, the price of Lucayans, who were thought to
be excellent divers, went up to 30-60 gold pesos. Deive, La Espafiola y la esclavitud de
los indios, 98.
23 AGI, Indiferente General 418, L3, f91v.
24 AGI, Indiferente General 419, L5, ff245r-245v.
25 AGI, Indiferente General 420, L8, f69r.
26 AGI, Indiferente General 420, L10, ff243r-243v.
27 AGI, Indiferente General 419, L5, ff68-71; full text in Arranz Marquez,
Repartimientos y Encomiendas en la Isla Espafiola, 1991), 381-382. See also Enrique
Otte, "Los Jeronimos y el trafico humano en el Caribe: Una rectification," in Anuario de
Estudios Hispanoamericanos (1958), 5-6.
28 Cassa, Historia social y economica, Vol. 1, 54.
29 AGI, Indiferente General 420, L8, ffl77r-178r.
30 AGI, Indiferente General 418, L3, ff334v-335. Diego de Nicuesa was in partnership
with Alonso de Ojeda.
31 CDIU, Vol. 5, 200-205.
32 AGI, Indiferente General 1961, LI, ff 13 1-132.
33 AGI, Indiferente General 419, L5, ff245r-245v.
34 AGI, Indiferente General 41, LI, f76. Full text in DIHC, Vol. 6, 363-364.
35 Marte, Manuscritos de Juan Bautista Munoz, Vol. 1, 93-94.
36 AGI, Indiferente General 419, L4, ff46v-47r.
37 For example, two royal provisions dated Feb 22, 1512, confirm that the residents of
San Juan and Hispaniola can go to capture "indios caribes" and keep them "as naborfas
for their lifetime and that of their successors" without even having to pay the quinto (the
standard one-fifth tax). AGI, Indiferente General 418, L3, ff223-224 and 226-227 v.
38It is, perhaps, from this period on that Simpson gained his impression that all early
Spanish conquistadores and colonists viewed the encomienda system "as a subterfuge for
slavery." Simpson, The Encomienda in New Spain, xiii.
From: Maximilian C. Forte
To: Lynne Guitar, Pedro Ferbel, Jorge Estevez
Sent: Monday, November 11, 2002 3:44 AM
Subject: Questions on Taino Population Stats
I generally agree with your comments. I am glad that I raised an issue that has arisen here
in Trinidad, and which I think is a false trap. If we believe the archaeologists, that for
thousands of years, and certainly hundreds, there has been concerted inter-island trade,
conquest, marriage, and so forth. None of these populations was ever "purely local", or
generated entirely in situ-obviously. That is the paradox of Caribbean indigeneity, that is,
it is not necessarily rooted in some fixed or absolute sense. Here in Trinidad some
individuals cringe when the discussion of "Venezuelan roots" arises, as if this threatened
to undermine their indigeneity. Quite the contrary, I argue: there was never any such
thing as a uniquely local Trinidad indigenous tribe-movement back and forth from the
mainland was regular and normal, and Trinidad itself was part of the wider Amazon-
Orinoco complex of indigenous cultural flows. So we should not feel forced to portray
these groups as isolated in order to enhance their legitimacy. In addition, we should not
be blinded by modern day state-centric inventions of such entities as "Trinidad,
"Venezuela", or the "Dominican Republic", which have no cultural or even demographic
significance when extended backwards in time.
As you mentioned, some will ask: "OK, even if some Tainos survived the Spanish
Conquest, are today's Dominicans who have indigenous genes and indigenous culture
TAINOS?" The answer is that this is not entirely relevant or important. The reality was
far more fluid than the question assumes. It's if someone says: "no, these are definitely
Taino because we hardly see any inputs from anywhere else in the Caribbean", that I
would then become very suspicious-suspicious that a new and modern system of
identification, requiring that cultures be fixed in places, suiting current state-centric
assumptions, had been invented and applied retroactively. My own answer might be:
"sure there are inputs from all over the Caribbean, and why not? What's the problem?"
From: Maximilian C. Forte
To: Lynne Guitar, Pedro Ferbel, Jorge Estevez
Sent: Monday, November 11, 2002 3:53 AM
Subject: Extinction is good for some but not others?
MAX: I forgot another question that I VERY much wanted to raise, and am considering
raising it in Carbet-L as soon as I can refine the question a little more.
We, and I mean we as in those of us emailing each other here, would not be prepared to
accept that there was any extinction of the Amerindian inhabitants of Cuba, Puerto Rico,
Hispaniola (or should I specify the Dominican Republic?), Dominica, Saint Vincent,
Saint Lucia, or Trinidad.
These are the ones we always mention.
Now, does that mean that we ARE willing to concede that the extinction myth is not a
myth when applied to OTHER islands, like those where you never hear of people
claiming an aboriginal identity? I think here of Anguilla, Antigua, Saint Croix, Saint
Thomas, Montserrat, Martinique, I could go on: in fact, the majority of Caribbean islands,
and, interestingly all of the
Does size matter?
Does self-identification matter?
Is the extinction myth valid for some and not others?
This reminds me of the case of Tobago, closer to my current home. Everyone, including
the Carib Community, is prepared to accept that there are NO MORE Amerindian
descendants left in Tobago, within visual range from the northeast coast. Yet, the now
dominant thesis is that some indigenous inhabitants survived in Trinidad. Why Trinidad
and not Tobago, which is SO
close? That seems almost bizarre.
Tell me what you think.
From: Pedro Ferbel-Azcarate
To: Maximilian C. Forte, Lynne Guitar, Jorge Estevez
Sent: Tuesday, November 12, 2002 4:12 AM
Subject: Extinction is good for some but not others?
PEDRO: I agree with Jorge [message not included] — innocent until proven extinct! I
know from my sister's Jamaican Mother-in-law that Jamaican people refer to certain
areas as being more "Indian" than others. In this she is referring to the way the people
look, not their having more Indigenous culture. I have also heard about this on the island
of Grenada. I remember even seeing some old publication that refers to the Caribs of
Grenada. I think the Bahamas may be a place I might consider to be without Indigenous
people, but I have never been there, so what do I know? Open book, as far as I'm
concerned. We should ask Jay Haviser for his opinion on the Indigenous people of the
Dutch Antilles. He wrote a great article about perceptions of Indigenous survival on
Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao...
When I was at the American Museum of Natural History last fall on a panel with Roberto
Borrero and Naniki Reyes Ocasio, the moderator Gabriel Haslip Viera asked us the same
question somewhat disparagingly. I said, whether or not their were other Native people in
the Caribbean in certain historical circumstances, they did not make much of a difference
in terms of Taino survival because all the Indigenous survivals that we know about are
related to historical, archaeological and linguistic evidence of them having a Taino origin.
There are no pyramids in Puerto Rico. There are no (significant quantities of) Central
American ceramics in the Caribbean, no lithics, no linguistics (well, maybe Indigenous
people brought Aguacatls and tomatls, but just as likely the Europeans).
The only evidence we seem to have is what my sister's Mother-in-law or what Lynne
refers to as people "looking more" Mayan or Indian or whatever. But, I am pretty
unconvinced that the phenotypic expression of individuals necessarily relates to their
having a particular genetic heritage. In a broad sense yes, but I don't think we humans
can look at a person and make reliable conclusions about their 64 great great great
grandparents. Or their 128 great great great great grandparents.
Please cite this page as follows:
Forte, Maximilian, ed. (2002). Dialogue on New Directions in Taino Research. KACIKE:
The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology [On-line Journal],
Special Issue, Lynne Guitar, Ed. Available at: http://www.kacike.org/Dialogues.html
[Date of access: Day, Month, Year].
© 2002, KACIKE.